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In My Opinion, I Think, I Believe This Is Bad Writing
I recently responded to the following question: “I am trying to improve the exposition/argument I am writing in English. What can I write instead of ‘in my opinion . . .’?”
As an editor, I like writing that gets to the point, communicates confidently, and provides new information. Phrases such as “in my opinion,” “I think that,” and “I believe” create three problems for writers.
1. They delay the writer’s message.
2. They demonstrate insecurity.
3. They tell the reader what he already knows.
Let’s look at why this is, using the sample sentence, “In my opinion, flowers are better than elephants.”
1. Delayed message
The statement the writer wants to make is “flowers are better than elephants.” If that’s the statement, then the writer simply needs to make it and not waste the reader’s time with “in my opinion.” Phrases such as “in my opinion” will always delay the writer from the point he or she wants to make. My advice: Get to the point. Make the statement.
Writers use these types of phrases so that they don’t have to make clear, definitive, confident answers. When you express something as only an opinion or personal belief, you can’t be blamed later if you are wrong. After all, the statement was only an opinion, not fact. The reader will be right to wonder if the information is only opinion, in which case it can be ignored, or if it is fact. Strong, confident writing expresses information as the truth. Confident writing is more direct and more persuasive.
3. Unnecessary information
Who is writing the words? The writer is. Unless the writer is quoting or citing the ideas from someone else, whose ideas, are they? The writers. What this means is that the statement is the writer’s idea, opinion, belief, and thoughts. The reader will understand this. As such, the writer doesn’t need to tell the reader that the ideas are his own.
Formal vs. informal writing
In personal writing, such as letters, diaries, journals, and private memos, the writer can write whatever he wants, however he wants. In formal writing, though, the standards are much higher. Formal writing includes academic papers, business reports, letters to colleagues or stakeholders, and journal articles.
Standards are higher for two main reasons. First, the need to communicate accurately is higher. Ideas are stated more directly and clearly. Second, the writer needs to create an image, or demonstrate a level of credibility. When a writer creates a good image, the reader will be confident that the information is accurate, and that the person writing is credible. By maintaining high standards, the writer builds trust in the reader.
Answer to the question
So this brings us back to the original question: “What can I write instead of ‘in my opinion’?” Based on the issues discussed above, the answer is “Nothing.” In my response to the person asking the question, I encouraged him to remove that phrase, or any similar phrase, and get to the point. “Don’t replace it with something else,” I advised. “Replace it with nothing.”
Using our example
Instead of writing, “In my opinion, flowers are better than elephants,” the writer should concisely, directly, and confidently state, “Flowers are better than elephants.”
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